EU leaders have rejected Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election in a disputed vote on August 9 and announced financial sanctions against officials the bloc blames for election fraud and the abuse of protesters.
The officials are thought to include Interior Minister Yuri Karayev, whose responsibilities include policing and public security.
The EU sanctions include asset freezes for an as yet undisclosed number of officials involved in alleged election-rigging, brutality and imprisonment of protesters. The EU leaders, however, have refrained from saying that they do not recognise President Lukashenko's authority.
“This is about the Belarusian people and their legitimate right to determine the future path of their country” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
After their Belarus video conference on Wednesday, EU leaders condemned the presidential election which awarded 80 percent of the vote to Lukashenko, with German chancellor Angela Merkel describing the election as “neither free nor fair”. But in a statement, the EU stopped short of explicitly calling for Lukashenko to step down or demanding a new election as some had called for.
It was also agreed that some €53m of financial support from the EU to Belarus will be re-directed away from the state to NGOs.
In a new twist, it emerged on Thursday that the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is unconscious in hospital amid suspicions he was “poisoned with a toxin”, according to his press secretary.
Russia has consistently warned the West against meddling in Belarus, which has the closest economic, cultural and political ties to Moscow of all the former Soviet republics.
In a statement after the virtual EU summit, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said, “This is about the Belarusian people and their legitimate right to determine the future path of their country.”
According to von der Leyen, the EU had offered to help mediate the dialogue between the government and the opposition.
European Council president Charles Michel, in a statement, said the EU did not recognise the result of the election and called on Lukashenko to release hundreds of protesters who have been imprisoned.
“We call on the Belarusian authorities to find a way out of the crisis through an end to violence, de-escalation, and an inclusive national dialogue” Charles Michel, President of the European Council
Michel said, “We call on the Belarusian authorities to find a way out of the crisis through an end to violence, de-escalation, and an inclusive national dialogue. Only a peaceful and democratic process, underpinned by independent and free media and a strong civil society, can provide sustainable solutions. All parties, including third states, should support such a process.”
Further comment came from Angela Merkel who said, “Belarus must find its own path, that must happen via dialogue in the country and there must be no intervention from outside.”
Lukashenko, who has led the country since 1994, has accused the opposition of "an attempt to seize power" and said he had ordered police to quell protests in Minsk. "There should no longer be any disorder in Minsk of any kind.”
“Belarus must find its own path, that must happen via dialogue in the country and there must be no intervention from outside” Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
However, in a speech to Wednesday’s summit, David Sassoli, Parliament's President said, “The future of Belarus can only be determined by its own citizens through a normal democratic process which safeguards their freedoms. Outside intervention in the crisis the country is going through would be intolerable.”
"There is every reason to fear escalating repression and military intervention, and I have a clear message for those who believe that they can divide us: There are no Europeans who are not worried. We Europeans are united in being concerned and alarmed.”
The Italian added, “Our task is clear: support the calls made by the people of Belarus for new elections to be held as soon as possible and guarantee that acts of violence and torture will be investigated and punished.”
“We must exert pressure through every available channel to ensure that the prisoners arrested since 9 August are released, rehabilitated and compensated.”
“The future of Belarus can only be determined by its own citizens through a normal democratic process which safeguards their freedoms. Outside intervention in the crisis the country is going through would be intolerable” David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament
The MEP added, “Sanctions are an important instrument available to the European Union, and Parliament calls on the Council to use them without delay in order to verify and punish the serious human rights violations which have occurred. Those sanctions could include the freezing of the assets of those who are misusing their power and violating fundamental freedoms."
His statement concluded, “We are deeply concerned at the violations of human rights and we believe that the only viable way ahead is that of dialogue involving all national and international stakeholders to secure a peaceful solution.”